What This Breast cancer Survivor Wants You to Know - Women's Health

What This Breast cancer Survivor Wants You to Know

"Sometimes your instincts about your health are wrong."

by | Oct 6, 2021

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, an annual campaign that aims to raise awareness about the impact of breast cancer. In 2021, it is estimated that 20,030 new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed in Australia. These stats are alarming and highlight the need for awareness and education when it comes symptoms, testing and treatment.

Unfortunately for some, learning more about the disease comes when youexperience it first-hand. Georgette Hewitt, a breast cancer survivor and founder of Sky Gazer, wants to change this. Here’s what she would like you to know.

The number of new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed in Australia this year

Methods of detection

In 2020 I found a lump in my breast and my GP sent me to an ultrasound. I was told the lump was nothing to worry about, that no further action was needed, and turns out the GP was correct. Not all cancers present as lumps. However, in 2021, my sister-in-law was diagnosed with breast cancer and advised that an ultrasound doesn’t pick up certain types of cancer and vice versa with mammograms, so I went for a mammogram too. This found a massive separate mass (about 8cm) which a biopsy showed was cancerous. So, while I did have a lump, the lump itself wasn’t cancerous, it was the mass that they picked up in that process that was. This highlighted the importance of making sure that when having a routine check, make sure you have an ultra-sound AND a mammogram as they can pick up different cancers.

 Sometimes your instincts are wrong

 When the biopsy showed that the mass in my breast was cancerous, I thought it was wrong. I felt fine! I didn’t think I was displaying symptoms of someone with cancer, which we so often summons up as an image of someone who is terribly sick and bed-ridden. After my first ultrasound, the lump didn’t warrant further investigation and I didn’t think I’d need further tests because I didn’t feel sick. In a case of horrific irony, if it wasn’t for my sister-in-law being diagnosed, I may never had gotten a mammogram. Please know, that sometimes your instincts about your health are wrong. Sure, they can definitely be right most of time, but I do think seeking medical advice is always the right choice.

Don’t always go with your first piece of advice

My diagnosis meant that I would need to have a full mastectomy and also need my lymph nodes removed (to check if it had spread). Many people don’t realise that there are so many types of mastectomies. Whattype of mastectomy you get depends on the location of the cancer. I made sure to get lots of advice and do plenty of research! You can’t choose your surgeon on public but in a lot of cases you can choose which public hospital to go to. In May of 2021, I had a mastectomy and immediate reconstruction and am so thankful that I didn’t go with my first piece of advice.  Thankfully my lymph nodes came back clear and only minimal treatment and observation is required ongoing. I do however need another reconstruction operation next year.

Breast cancer can affect younger women, too

We often hear about women being diagnosed with breast cancer later in life and while the majority of breast cancer cases (about 80%) occur in women over the age of 50, it occurs in young women too. Close to 1000 women under the age of 40 are projected to be diagnosed with the disease in 2021. If you are concerned, but think you are too young, please still ask for a test. Women tend to think they can’t have a mammogram until they’re 50, but you can actually ask for one at 40 in Australia on Medicare.

 Men can get breast cancer, too

While breast cancer is predominantly associated with women, it is important to know that (while rare) men can get breast cancer too. In 2017, there were 17,725 new cases of breast cancer diagnosed in Australia and 137 of those cases were male. The most common kinds of breast cancer in men are the same kinds in women so if you’re a male and are concerned about any abnormalities in your breasts, please get checked.

 Carry on with your life if you can

A disease like breast cancer can feel all-consuming (both physically and emotionally) but sometimes it’s important to continue a sense of normality. For me that meant continuing to run my business Sky Gazer, even though my diagnosis slowed me down. Sky Gazer is a best-selling business (we were named best seller on Amazon USA in 2020) and I wanted to keep the momentum going. We stock towels to over 170 shops in Australia (and some in the UAE) plus we run our own online store. I didn’t want to walk away from all the hard work I’d done and thankfully I didn’t have to. After my diagnosis, I felt incredibly tired and only managed towork around a few hours a day. I sent out an email to update my stockists and to let them know to please bear with me. Thankfully, they were all so supportive and understood that I may be a little slower with response times. I do think because I tried to carry on with my life, it provided a much-needed distraction during emotional times. While you do have tohonour your body and what you can physically – and emotionally – handle, letting life carry on can feel optimistic.

You are not alone

The alarming stat that 1 in 7 women are diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime shows a positive side – you are not alone. If you have any concerns or have been diagnosed with breast cancer, please know that there are so many resources and support groups available to you. Please don’t suffer in silence. Turn to your friends and loved ones who can support you in many wonderful ways, or professionals who can provide you with guidance that can be life-changing.

 

Stats sources: Cancer Australia and National Breast Cancer Foundation.

Georgette Hewitt is a breast cancer survivor and founder of Sky Gazer, an Aussie brand that offers a range of sand resistant, super absorbent, lightweight and rapid dry towels that all come in a matching bag (perfect for the beach, yoga, gym, picnics and the list goes on). www.skygazeraustralia.com

By Nikolina Ilic

Nikolina is the new web-obsessed Digital Editor at Men's and Women's Health, responsible for all things social media and .com. A lover of boxing, she has a mean punch inside and out of the ring. She was previously a Digital Editor at GQ and Vogue magazine.

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